“Dates only make us aware of how numbered our days are, how much closer to death we are for each one we cross off. From now on, Punzel, we’re going to live by the sun and the seasons.” He picked me up and spun me around, laughing. “Our days will be endless.”
– Or Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller
In this book, 8 year old Peggy is taken by her survivalist father to live in a remote cabin in Germany. When she complains that she wants to go home, her father tells her that there is no home to go back to, that they are the last two people alive on earth and that everything beyond their patch of forest has been lost to “the great divide”. Peggy’s father is very young, it is suggested, filled with paranoia and ideas, and obviously traumatized by something in his marriage (which is hidden for the majority of the book). The book switches between sections of Peggy and her father making their life in the forest, with Peggy (or Punzel as she names herself) growing up in the shadow of her father’s increasing eccentricity and within the harsh environment of the forest, cut off from the rest of the world. With Peggy firmly believing her Father that there is nothing left but them and this life, and suitably afraid of exploring too far from their cabin. The other sections are Peggy at 17 years old, having returned to live in London with her mother, without her father, and clearly very sick herself.
We are told from the start that Peggy is an unreliable narrator, suffering from a memory disorder due to diet, and we can see her penchant for stories and make believe, so it makes sense that the book takes on a rather unrealistic, embellished feel as Peggy looks back over her past. During her time in the forest Peggy is writing herself a fairytale, of which she is the princess, to cover up the true horrific nature of what she experienced. It makes sense the way the story hints at various existing tales, as if Peggy is drawing on the stories she may have listened to as a child.
But it is a bit frustrating to read – although the writing is beautiful, it is also disjointed and the scene/subject often switches abruptly, leaving a previous idea hanging with no resolution. It is slow paced, meandering its way to the final reveal. The late nature of the pulling together of all the hints, pulling back from the fairytale to the reality, did make this a difficult book to read. Combine that with the disjointed ideas and slightly unrealistic feeling to it, I almost gave up on it. I’m mostly glad I didn’t. I spent a lot of the final chapters of this book anticipating the final twist, and reveal of Peggy’s condition, and the final set of revelations still did shock me. I didn’t really want to be right.
The book came together wonderfully. And yes, it is beautifully written. And the use of music , so wonderfully captured in the audio book , is amazing. (I was startled to read about what a “piano with no sound” was.) I wish there was an epilogue though, to see what came next, after the final reveal. It’s a bit annoying to stick with the book so patiently for no real resolution. It felt like we were just really getting into the tale, when it abruptly ended.
Audio book notes- this was a stunning audio book. The narrator effortlessly switched between male and female, spoken and song, and English and German. I am fairly sure the audio book quite possibly made this more engaging than it could have been, and it certainly brought the musical parts of the book alive.